CALLS by humanists for pupils to have a legal right right to opt-out of religious observance in schools have been rejected by the Scottish Government.

The decision comes only a week after a United Nations report recommended ministers repeal existing guidance which makes it compulsory for children to attendance faith based classes and events unless their parents have requested an opt-out.

Senior pupils in England and Wales have been allowed to withdraw from religious education lessons since 2006, and the Humanist Society of Scotland (HSS) wants to see this right extended north of the Border.

But the Scottish Government dismissed its demand, insisting its guidance to headteachers said religious and moral education in schools should also include teaching pupils about “non religious beliefs”.

Gordon MacRae, the chief executive, of the HSS hit back after receiving a letter from a senior civil servant declining his request.

“It’s so frustrating for us that we have a Scottish government who say all the right things when it comes to human rights and the rights of children, but when it comes to making the changes required to enforce these rights there is a lack of motivation.

“We are not talking about a particularly controversial issue here. We’re talking about giving children in Scotland the same legal rights that children enjoy south of the Border.”

MacRae said HSS wanted to persuade the Scottish Government about the merits of replacing religious observance with a secular subject such as philosophy, but until then it would continue “to press for children to have the right to withdraw themselves from religious observance.”

A number of academic reports have called for pupils be allowed to opt out of religious studies themselves.

They include a study published last autumn, commissioned by HSS, which found religion has an influence in schools that does not reflect its wider role in society.

Researchers from Glasgow University found “in general, there has been a drift towards the diminution of statutory support for religion and religious influence”.

“The major exception to this is education,” they said. “Education is an area in which the influence of religion has changed its form, but has in many ways been increasing.”

Last year, the 2015 Scottish Household Survey found that 47 per cent, nearly one in two people, in Scotland identify with no religion.

A letter to HSS received last week from the Scottish Government confirmed that it had no plans to allow pupils themselves to opt out of religious observance and classes.

It said its legal guidance on the issues complied with regulations set down in the European Convention of Human Rights.

“Scottish Government guidance on both religious and moral education and religious observance as well as Curriculum for Excellence makes it clear, that in Scottish schools, learning and teaching must take place in a pluralistic manner that records respect to both religious and non-religious beliefs,” wrote Sue Langlands, head of the curriculum unit at the Scottish Government to Gary McLelland, head of communications and public affairs at HSS.

“The ‘principles and practice’ and ‘experiences and outcomes’ documents under Curriculum for Excellence for Religious and Moral Education and Religious Education in Roman Catholic Schools also refer expressly to the value of covering non-religious beliefs.

“As such the Scottish Government does not consider it necessary to update its guidance in a form of a new circular to headteachers at this time.”

Last week’s report from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child states, in respect of religious observance said: “The Committee recommends that the State party repeal legal provisions for compulsory attendance at collective worship in publicly funded schools and ensure children have the right to withdraw from religious worship at school.”